(And no, I don’t mean in the 'petting' sense. I’m not going into those kinds of ‘firsts’ on this blog. At least not yet...)
I know it’s not very rock’n’roll compared to my previous ‘firsts’ posts (first album, first gig, first T-shirt) but it’s just one of those subjects that I’m sure a lot of people can relate to. I think everyone I know had a pet when they were a child. And, strangely enough, it seems like certain ‘types’ of pets go in and out of fashion - and may even be linked to certain eras. So perhaps there are more resonances to albums, gigs and T-shirts than I first thought?
Tortoises, for instance. Tortoises were very popular pets here in the seventies; unfortunately for them they were being shipped to the UK from more exotic climes in huge numbers, cruelly packed in appalling conditions – a great percentage never made the journey. But the lucky few that survived were quickly despatched to pet shops around the country and bought by enthusiastic children, many of whom had been watching Blue Peter (the TV programme no doubt responsible for impulse purchases of border collies, tabby cats, parrots and, indeed, these slow-moving, land-dwelling reptiles). Many of these cold-blooded characters must have been relocated to small British gardens where they somehow coped with our often chilly, damp weather. Many would have had their names (or owners’ names) painted on their shells and occasionally may even have had chains or ropes drilled into them (nobody questioned whether or not this process would have caused them any stress or pain). So I was not unusual in being the proud owner of a tortoise in the seventies. Timmy somehow managed to survive a few winter hibernations in a cardboard box in the garage (and his name was never painted on, nor his shell ever drilled into). He enjoyed a diet of dandelion leaves and bananas and had a remarkably runny nose out of which he could blow the most impressive little bubbles of snot. I could relate to him rather well at the age of nine.
But Timmy was not my very first personal pet. My first was a goldfish. During a trip to the local fair my sister and I each won a goldfish sealed into a tiny polythene bag of water. I’d probably despair at the number of these ‘prizes’ that were flushed down toilets soon after being won on the coconut shy – but I’m happy to report that ours were relocated into a rather splendid tank with rocks and shells and all sorts of Neptunian items in it to make them feel a bit at home.
As is the way with naming pets, you have to think of something which begins with the same letter as the creature itself. Yes, we later did it with Timmy the Tortoise (and subsequently Toby and Twinkle). But ‘G’ for Goldfish is not a particularly inspiring letter. And our goldfish were definitely girls. Eventually my sister decided on ‘Geraldine’. Aged about six at the time, I was inspired by her lead. But what other girls’ names sound like Geraldine? Somehow I missed the point, and started looking for names with that soft ‘G’ sound, same as Geraldine. Ah – got it. G… G…. Guuuu...? I proudly named my goldfish ‘Judith’. (Oh well. But you can understand my thinking…)
From inauspicious beginnings in a plastic bag at a small-town-England fair with its rock’n’roll soundtrack and dodgy dodgems, Judith and Geraldine went on to live surprisingly long (and hopefully happy) lives in their comfortable tank chez nous. In summer they got a holiday in the little pond in the garden, where they got to mingle with tadpoles and the occasional newt. The rest of the year they were safe and warm on a ledge in the bathroom where we watched them, and from which they had a fish-eye lens view of a human family as we took our baths and used the loo. I think we got the better deal of the two.